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'Blade' comes closer to 'From Dusk Till Dawn' than 'Nosferatu,' but

it's gory, escapist fun

by Jim Wunderle

"Blade"

Directed by: Stephen Norrington

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson

Rated: R

Since the dawn of the movie era, it seems the industry has relished making and audiences have continually enjoyed seeing the vampire movie.

Something deep in the human psyche must find this type of monster at once compelling and repulsive, and a combination like that can make for box-office success.

How else would you explain Jim Carrey's popularity?

Lately it seems that not a year passes without a major vampire film hitting the scene.

Three of the earliest films in the genre remain critical favorites to this day. "Nosferatu" came along in 1922 and was a German adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel "Dracula." Directed by F.W. Murnau, "Nosferatu" has provided inspiration for countless horror films that followed.

In 1931, Tod Browning cast Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula in "Dracula," and even casual viewers are familiar with this classic of horror. I'd venture a guess that when anyone thinks of Dracula, or a vampire in general, Lugosi's image is the one that comes to mind.

Lesser known by the general public, but admired by critics more than nearly any other horror film, is the 1932 German/French release "Vampyr," directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. It's not an easy film to find, but it is (officially) available on videotape. Anyone who's interested in the horror genre should seek out this acknowledged masterpiece.

In the 1960s the English company Hammer Films gave us a vampire series featuring Christopher Lee as the blood-crazed count, and in the past few years alone we've been treated to Francis Ford Coppola's reworking of "Bram Stoker's Dracula," Neil Jordan's take on the hugely popular Anne Rice novel, "Interview with the Vampire," and "funkier" pieces like "From Dusk Till Dawn."

Gritty and gruesome, "The Addiction" goes to the unseemly places that director Abel Ferrara is so fond of taking us. ("The Addiction" is to vampire films what "The Bad Lieutenant" is to cop movies.)

Add to the list "Blade," a film that will find a place closer to "From Dusk Till Dawn" than classics like "Nosferatu" or "Vampyr," but one that should have a willing audience in this last hurrah of summer films 1998.

One of the main plot devices here something about resurrecting an ancient "blood god" is completely incomprehensible to all but avid comic book readers, but that's probably the core audience at which the film is aimed.

On the other hand, I enjoyed "Blade," albeit on the level of plain, dumb (and gory) fun. I guess I should also point out I was once an avid reader of comic books.

The title character, played by Wesley Snipes, is a curiosity of nature at least "nature" as presented in the film. His mother was bitten by a vampire while pregnant, and Blade (real name Eric, but that doesn't quite instill a sense of awe or fear, now does it?) turned out to be somewhat of a "vampire halfbreed." He has their powers but is unaffected by their weaknesses (you know, garlic, silver bullets, sunlight ... ).

Eric, I mean Blade, has spent his adult life hunting down and destroying every member of the ghoulish persuasion in an attempt to avenge his mother's death. Helping him along is a guy named Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) who lost his own family to the vampires many years before.

One thing you have to know about the world of this film is the fact that these vampires are everywhere. They control big business, politicians, the police ... Hey, wait a minute, that might explain a few things that happen in "real" life.

In the latest power struggle for control of the Vampire Nation, a new, and rather nasty (even by vampire standards), young upstart has come to the fore. His name is Deacon Frost. Frost and his young, wild, punk-vampire followers are trying to bring about an old vampire prophecy that will usher in the age of the blood god.

Needless to say, Blade is not exactly keen on this idea.

As I said before, it's stupid, it's gory and some of it is beyond comprehension, but for escapism and sheer guilty pleasure, I'd recommend "Blade" to anyone interested in the vampire or horror genre.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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